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Ecologist Special Report: Divesting from investment in fossil fuels gains momentum in the UK

By Remo Bebié, Finance Dialogue - Ecologist, May 15, 2017

Bill McKibben, Author and co-founder of 350.org is categoric that one of the key ways to tackle climate change is through financial channels: "There is no question we are currently in a state of emergency on climate change. Day in day out people are dying from the effects of climate change. There are many ways to confront this emergency and divestment allows us to get in the way of the money financing the fossil fuel projects behind this crisis.

"The fact that the fossil fuel divestment movement has grown exponentially in the last few years is the best news ever. From the Pacific Islands to South Africa, from the United States to Germany, people are standing up and challenging the power of the fossil fuel industry."

And in the UK too, the divestment movement is now gathering momentum.

Only last week, 50 MPs announced their backing of a campaign calling on parliament's £612m pension fund to divest from fossil fuels.

Faith groups too are also increasingly moving out of fossil fuel investments. Earlier this month, more than a quarter of Britain's Quaker meetings pledged to divest and the Catholic Church is also taking stand ("the Catholic fossil fuel divestment movement has gained further momentum as nine more institutions pull out of fossil fuels, citing a "political impasse" around US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement." )

In late January, the Irish Parliament voted in favour of a law requiring the country's £6.8 billion Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to divest from all fossil fuels over the next five years. The story went viral on social media.

Three weeks ago, Norway's largest private pension fund, Storebrand, launched two new fossil free funds, bringing their fossil free fund portfolio to $1.2 billion. Storebrand also warned that the Norwegian government is overly exposed to fossil fuels through its $900 billion sovereign wealth fund, even though it has already taken significant steps to reduce exposure in the past.

Momentum is gathering at such a speed in the UK it appears to be approaching a tipping point: Waltham Forest and Southwark, two local government pension schemes for boroughs in London, have pledged to fully divest from fossil fuels within the last year, while Hackney's pension fund committed to cut its exposure by 50 percent, as the FT reported recently. Among the UK's Local Government Pension Schemes, these three are on the smaller range, each managing assets between £0.74 and £1.26 billion.  

But examples also include the £2.73 billion Environment Agency's Pension Fund, which is currently ranked second in the Asset Owner Disclosure Project's 2017 ranking (first in 2016) among the world's 500 largest asset owners. The fund is widely considered a global leader in terms of aligning investment strategies with the goals called for in the Paris agreement and reducing financial risks associated with the energy transition.

UK workplace pension scheme NEST, already progressive in terms of integration of Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) issues, has recently added a specific climate tilted fund to it's portfolio. NEST cited "addressing risks and capturing opportunities associated with the move to fight climate change" as reasons for launching the fund. 

Private institutions are taking note too: Last fall, HSBC Bank UK Pension Scheme chose a new climate tilted fund as the equity default option for its £2.6 billion defined contribution (DC) scheme. The scheme's CIO, Mark Thompson, expects the move to deliver "better risk-adjusted return, protection against climate change risks, and a more powerful ESG engagement policy within a passive mandate".

Furthermore, by April 2018, most UK local government schemes are due to be integrated into eight pools, each managing between £12 and £36 billion of pooled assets (see here for a good pooling overview by IPE). Implementation of divestment pledges for individual schemes will depend on the pool structure. The schemes of the London boroughs are already being pooled through London CIV, which recently wrote that it is "focusing on investment strategies the pension fund authorities have shown most demand for, namely: global equity income; sustainable equities; emerging markets and value strategies." 

Many other pools are now in the process of hiring executives: Brunel, the pool which contains the Environment Agency's Pension Fund, and LGPS Central have named new chairs within the last month. The London Pension Fund Authority (LPFA) is currently "seeking to recruit additional Board Members with knowledge and experience of either: 1) Environmental Social and Corporate Governance issues in a pension fund, with a strong commitment to delivering divestment from fossil fuels; or 2) strategic and sustainable infrastructure investment by pension funds, with a breadth of experience across all forms of infrastructure investment." 

All this indicates that more activity may be expected from the UK's public and private institutional investors. And public pressure is rising as well as various UK local government pension schemes are engaged by campaigners as part of the Global Divestment Mobilisation (GDM) with calls for fossil fuel divestment (see here for complete list of LGPS engagements within the Mobilisation).

Why there’s hope for the climate movement under Trump

By Nick Engelfried - Waging Nonviolence, November 22, 2016

The climate movement woke on Nov. 9 to a new reality few of us had expected to be faced with: the specter of a Trump presidency and perhaps the most anti-environment administration and Congress in U.S. history. Suddenly our job of stopping new oil pipelines and fracking wells, preventing the construction of fossil fuel plants and shutting down existing fossil fuel infrastructure felt much harder.

Although the possibility of a Trump presidency had loomed for months, polls consistently showing Hillary Clinton in the lead made it seem remote. Many climate organizations laid their plans based on the presumption that they would most likely be dealing with a Clinton administration. “Assuming that as a nation we’ve managed to elect Hillary Clinton,” 350.org founder Bill McKibben wrote in an Election Day email to supporters, “we’ll need to start pressuring her from the earliest moments of her presidency.”

What the polls failed to account for was unexpectedly low voter turnout, caused in part by voter disaffection with both presidential candidates and a growing nationwide frustration with the existing political system. Despite Clinton winning the popular vote, low progressive turnout in key swing states granted Trump enough Electoral College votes to claim the presidency.

“We at The Climate Mobilization were not expecting a President Trump,” wrote leaders of The Climate Mobilization, a group that advocates for a Word War II-scale deployment of clean energy to fight climate change. “His election shows us that this country is desperate for change, but is still deeply in denial about the truth of the climate emergency.”

If there is any silver lining from the Trump victory, it would seem to be the evidence that vast numbers of people are hungry for a radical shift in politics. But Trump wants to take us in the opposite direction of progress on climate change. During his campaign, he pledged to scrap the Paris climate deal and the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. He promised to re-start approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and resurrect a dying coal industry. And his suite of potential cabinet nominees include climate science deniers and oil drilling proponents.

To many activists, the coming Trump presidency calls to mind the darkest days of the George W. Bush administration, when fossil fuel industries were basically invited to write national policy. But much has changed in the U.S. climate movement since the days of Bush. The last six years have seen the birth of climate campaigns that are bigger, bolder and more direct-action oriented than any environmental movement in decades.

Although this recent movement growth occurred during the Obama administration, its origins can be traced to a time when the climate movement was reeling from a series of shocking defeats. Obama’s campaign promises in 2008 had caused mainstream environmental groups to welcome his administration with the expectation of unprecedented progress. But this dream soon faded.

Capital Blight News #117

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 17, 2016

A supplement to Eco Unionist News:

Lead Stories:

The Man Behind the Curtain:

Green is the New Red:

Greenwashers:

Disaster Capitalism:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW. Please send suggested news items to include in this series to euc [at] iww.org.

Climate Crisis, the Deindustrialization Imperative and the Jobs vs. Environment Dilemma

By Richard Smith - TruthOut, November 12, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Since the 1990s, climate scientists have been telling us that unless we suppress the rise of carbon dioxide emissions, we run the risk of crossing critical tipping points that could unleash runaway global warming, and precipitate the collapse of civilization and perhaps even our own extinction. To suppress those growing emissions, climate scientists and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have called on industrialized nations to slash their carbon dioxide emissions by 80 to 90 percent by 2050. (1)

But instead of falling, carbon dioxide emissions have been soaring, even accelerating, breaking records year after year. In May 2013, carbon dioxide concentrations topped the 400 parts per million mark prompting climate scientists to warn that we're "running out of time," that we face a "climate emergency" and that unless we take "radical measures" to suppress emissions very soon, we're headed for a 4-degree or even 6-degree Celsius rise before the end of the century. And not just climate scientists have made warnings, but also mainstream authorities, including the World Bank, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and others. In 2012, the IEA warned that "no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if we hope to prevent global warming from exceeding more than 2 degrees Centigrade." (2) In September 2014, the global accounting and consulting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers warned that

For the sixth year running, the global economy has missed the decarbonisation target needed to limit global warming to 2˚C . . . To avoid two degrees of warming, the global economy now needs to decarbonise at 6.2 percent a year, more than five times faster than the current rate, every year from now till 2100. On our current burn rate we blow our carbon budget by 2034, sixty-six years ahead of schedule. This trajectory, based on IPCC data, takes us to four degrees of warming by the end of the century. (3)

Yet despite ever more dire warnings from the most conservative scientific, economic and institutional authorities, and despite record heat and drought, superstorms and floods, and melting ice caps and vanishing glaciers, "business as usual" prevails. Worse, every government on the planet is pulling out all the stops to maximize growth and consumption in the effort to hold on to the fragile recovery. (4)

Can We Earn a Living on a Living Planet? The need for jobs, and the ecological limits to growth

By Chuck Collins - American Prospect, October 13, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

It has been a tough couple of years in the effort to unite labor, community, and environmental groups, an alliance that has always been strained.

The extractive energy sector—coal, gas, oil—has historically had strong union representation and well-paying jobs. Tensions rose in 2011 after the Sierra Club escalated their campaign to close coal plants and 350.org, the climate protection group led by activist Bill McKibben, called for a halt to the Keystone XL Pipeline project.  Even Obama’s relatively mild order this past June on reducing pollution from power plants was opposed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Mineworkers.

At a February 2013 meeting of labor and environmental activists, Damon Silvers, the AFL-CIO’s director of policy and special counsel, yelled and pounded the table, “Where is the transition plan for workers? Why isn’t this part of your demands?”

Divisions will increase in the coming years, as two competing urgencies collide. Labor and community justice organizations will demand jobs, economic growth, and reductions in inequality. And environmental activists will increase pressure to curtail fossil fuel production in the face of climate disruptions. Both the politics and the policies of these goals seem to diverge. But must they?

“Pitting jobs versus the environment is a false choice,” says Joe Uehlein, a longtime trade unionist, now board president of the Labor Network for Sustainability, which builds alliances between environmental and labor sectors. “We need to figure out how to make a living on a living planet.”

Why we need to win the battle over the tar sands: the fight over the tar sands is among the epic environmental and social justice battles of our time

Book Review By Brad Hornick - rabble.ca, October 2, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

As our governments willingly unleash unprecedented destruction upon the earth through the promotion of extractive industries, and growing mobilizations of climate activists challenge climate emergency, I am reminded of a cautionary warning: "the Owl of Minerva takes flight at dusk."

This environmental metaphor conveys that the awareness of a historical period only becomes apparent when that era is coming to a close and as we come face-to-face with urgent tasks that need to be addressed.

As if responding to this desperate need to hurry the inauguration of a new historical era, Stephen D'Arcy, Toban Black, Tony Weis and Joshua Kahn Russell, editors of A Line in the Tar Sands, bring together the voices of activists and academics to argue "peoples' movements will either succeed in transforming our economic and political systems to build a new world, or we will burn with the old one."

This argument, cemented by Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben stating "the fight over the tar sands is among the epic environmental and social justice battles of our time" in the opening pages, suggests the very active tar sands struggle is no less than a life-and-death battle for the future of the planet.

It is a battle that pits these peoples' movement against the largest and most destructive industrial project -- a project driven by the big the most profitable and powerful transnational energy corporations: ExxonMobile, British Petroleum, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Sinopec.

And, this is a battle on a geological time-scale.  

These corporations are digging up carbon that was produced by billions of years of decomposition of organic matter and remained underground through natural processes, permitting life to flourish on the planet's surface.

In a few short years, this capitalist enterprise has caused a dramatic overburdening, creating massive levels of carbon pollution as waste and a dangerous imbalance increasingly undermining those very life support systems.

And all is driven by crass and class politics.

The State of the Environmental Movement

By Burkeley Herrman - August 17, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Recently, the Washington Post covered a 192-page study that struck to the heart of the big environmental organizations. As summarized by reporter Darryl Fears of the Post, who covers wildlife and the Chesapeake Bay, the study showed that the US's biggest environmental groups have “failed to keep pace with the nation's expanding minority populations—and remain overwhelmingly white.” Rather than going into the specifics of certain numbers in the article and the study, this article will be a reaction to what the Post wrote and my thoughts on the current state of the environmental movement.

As the article notes, the study, which was one of the first investigations “of diversity within green groups in years,” was supported financially by the Sierra Club, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Green 2.0. Through some further research I found that Green 2.0. is clearly a mainstream environmental organization since it has a working group composed of people from top environmental groups, academics, nine individuals from a lobbying and consulting group with clients including big foundations, big corporations and nonprofits (The Raben Group), governmental officials and other green activists. What about the study itself? The article talks not only about the lack of diversity in the environmental organizations, but why people of color don't join such organizations. This was part of the article I found most interesting since it noted that people of color who are employed at such organizations feel “alienated” and not welcome, while “recruitment for staff frequently occurs through word-of-mouth and informal networks...[which] makes it difficult for ethnic minorities, the working class” or anyone outside “traditional environmental networks” to know about job openings and then apply for such jobs.

This was only the first part of the article that made me realize the divide in the environmental movement. This divide is a racial one. As the article notes, during the civil rights movement, people of color joined big environmental organizations in an effort to “battle the power plants, petrochemical refineries, railroads, sewers, and other polluters operating in their communities,” but they were “unwelcome” in these organizations. Eventually, there was a summit of environmentalists who were people of color which condemned the big environmental organizations for not having diversity among their members and taking in a “lion's share of funding.” Recruiters from some of the groups responded, saying, in an almost a racist way, that “they tried to be more inclusive, but minorities lacked the education and skills needed to be effective advocates,” which implied that white advocates had the skills and education. While it is true that some people of color don't have such skills, others do. Additionally, the social environment certain people of color grow up in, especially in ghettos or slums in the inner-city areas, could result in not having these skills. As I wrote in a paper about the conditions inside prisons and the reasons for the rise of mass incarceration, that not only is the mass arrest of people within the US, the war on drugs, and the education system bias against people of color, but the hope for “a better world is to be in the 'next generation'” is greatly diminished when “when many of these people [of color] are these people are in jail or in prison.” Even so, it is still unacceptable that people would be excluded since all the environmental groups would have to do is teach someone skills if they did not know them already. It's not that hard. As a result of such opinions and the treatment of people of color inside such organizations, it is not a surprise that it's hard to retain people of color.

People's Climate March and People's Climate Justice Summit

Take Direct Action for Climate Justice! | New York City | September 17-24, 2014 | International Week of Solidarity with Frontline Communities Around the World!

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On September 23rd, political and corporate leaders are meeting at the United Nations in New York City for the Climate Summit 2014. This summit represents yet another step towards the corporate takeover of the UN climate negotiations, and the privatization of land, water and air resources under the guise of a global climate compact. Meanwhile, as communities on the frontlines of climate change, we are the ones cultivating real, place-based solutions to address the global ecological crises. Indigenous peoples’ communities, communities of color and working-class white communities that are the first and most impacted by the storms, floods and droughts, are organizing to create millions of family-supporting jobs in clean energy, public transportation, zero waste, food sovereignty, community housing and ecosystem restoration.

We are also organizing to stop pollution and poverty at the source, confronting the extreme energy corporations causing the climate crisis. As we write, our friends and comrades around the world are putting their bodies on the line to stop the corporations responsible – mining corporations; oil, coal and gas companies; pipelines and refineries; biofuels plantations; nuclear power plants; waste and biomass incinerators, and a myriad other industries profiteering from the destruction of our communities, our cultures and our ecosystems.

From Mesa to Mountaintop, from Hood to Holler – join us as we meet the scale and urgency of the crisis by standing in solidarity with all frontlines of resistance and resilience around the world, and taking non-violent direct action against the corporations driving the extractive economy. We call on our allies to:

  • Join us in the streets of NYC for a week of creative non-violent actions for Climate Justice
  • Organize a delegation to join the People’s Climate March & People’s Climate Justice Summit in NYC
  • Organize a creative action in your home community that highlights local solutions to climate change
  • Spread this call to action amongst your respective networks and social media outlets

Our demands of local, national and international decision-makers are simple: Support us in building Just Transition pathways away from the “dig, burn, dump” economy, and towards “local, living economies” where communities and workers are in charge! Join us in solidarity – in the streets of New York City, in your own community, and around the world!

Read the entire appeal here.

On Bill McKibben’s ‘call to arms’ for the New York Climate Summit

By Anne Petermann - Global Justice Ecology Project, July 17, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The September climate march was called for by Big Green NGOs 350.org and Avaaz, who have thrown copious quantities of cash at it. But many environmental and climate justice organizations and alliances based in the New York/New Jersey region and across the US have demanded a seat at the organizing table to ensure that the voices of front line and impacted communities are heard, despite their small budgets.

The demands of the march: there will be none. That’s right. The march will simply bring together an estimated 200,000 people to march through the streets of New York and then…  There will be no rally, no speakers, no strong political demands.  Just people showing up with the overarching message that the world’s leaders should take action on climate change.

Please.

What kind of climate action should be taken is a question that has long been debated by climate justice activists, organizations, social movements and Indigenous Peoples all over the world for decades.   “Climate action” can include things like geoengineering schemes–manmade manipulations of nature on such a massive scale that the impacts can’t possibly be known, but could definitely be catastrophic.  They can also include actions already taking place, such as the building of vast hydroelectric dams that flood vast expanses of land and displace thousands of Indigenous Peoples or land-based communities. Climate action can also include ongoing grabbing of land for the development of vast plantations of oil palm, GMO soy or non-native trees for so-called bioenergy.

So no, not all “climate action” is created equal.  A lack of clear justice-based and ecologically sound demands in this “historic” march will leave a vacuum.  And no vacuum remains empty for long.  It’s simple physics.  The media will not cover a march with no demands. They will find a message.  And likely, as so often happens, those with the connections and the money will win the messaging game.

BREAKING: Bill McKibben Locked Down at Keystone XL Southern Leg Construction Site

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